St. Nicholas Symbols

A number of symbols help us recognize St. Nicholas. They developed from his most popular stories and customs.

Miter

Miter

A special tall pointed hat worn by a bishop. The miter is a general symbol for bishops, but it is unique to St. Nicholas among holiday gift-givers. (also mitre)

Crozier

Crozier

A hooked staff carried by a bishop; represents a shepherd’s staff as the bishop is to be the shepherd of the people, as Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Again, a crozier is a general symbol for bishops, but unique to Nicholas among gift-givers. (also crosier)

Gold Balls

Three Gold Balls

Represent the gold given to provide dowries for the impoverished maidens. Nicholas’ gold balls became the pawnbroker’s symbol. Sometimes oranges or apples are used to represent the gold.

Gold coins

Gold Coins

Another way of representing the gold given as dowries.

Money Bags

Money Bags

Usually three, but sometimes one, represent the gold thrown into the house to provide dowry money.

Maidens

Three Maidens

The three young women who received the gold dowry money.

Children in Tub

Children In Tub

Show Nicholas as the protector of children, from the story rescuing young children or students from the evil butcher or innkeeper. Usually three children are in the tub, but sometimes only two are present.

Children

Children

Often shown with St. Nicholas because he is their patron saint.

Ship

Ship

Symbolizes the close association St. Nicholas has with sailors, ships, and the sea.

Anchor

Anchor

Represents Nicholas’ relationship with ships and sailors.

Book

Book

This large book is the Book of the Gospels or the Holy Scriptures. In some European gift-giving traditions the large book is the record book of children’s behavior.

Shoe with carrot

Shoes

Children put carrots, turnips, or hay in their shoes for St. Nicholas’ horse or donkey. St. Nicholas replaces them with treats. So shoes filled with things for his horse or donkey or shoes with children’s treats are symbols for St. Nicholas.

Which symbols can you find in these Saint Nicholas pictures?

St Nicholas, Ashchurch, UK
Four Symbols
Statue, St Nicholas Parish, Ashchurch, UK
Photo: Anglican World/JMR
Block print by Marlene Reidel, 1985
Seven Symbols
Block print by Marlene Reidel
from Heilige, Ueberreuter, 1985;
used by permission
TCM Phonecard
Four Symbols
TCM Phonecard
St Nicholas Center Collection

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